Claims of Israel bulldozing Palestinian graves are libel - opinion

Twitter was in an uproar after a video was posted of a woman grasping her son's grave as officials try to drag her away.

 Arab families argue with authorities about construction near graves of their relatives near Yusufiya Cemetery (photo credit: TZVI JOFFRE)
Arab families argue with authorities about construction near graves of their relatives near Yusufiya Cemetery
(photo credit: TZVI JOFFRE)

Palestinian social media have been in an uproar in recent weeks over the “atrocities” being committed in Jerusalem as the State of Israel is “bulldozing graves of Palestinians in order to build a theme park,” or so American-Palestinian supermodel Bella Hadid and thousands of others on social media would like you to believe.

It’s libels like this that have been garnering thousands upon thousands of retweets and shares on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms, after a dramatic video was released on social media and further distributed by the press depicting a Palestinian mother grasping her son’s grave, allegedly defending it from being bulldozed by “Israeli forces.”

In the video, the Israeli police ask her, then physically force her, to move away from the construction area which is adjacent to her son’s grave.

Additional footage from the scene showed police moving protesters away from the work area to prevent a riot from breaking out.

The woman, Alaa Nababta, buried her son illegally in an area outside the court-ruled barriers of the cemetery four years ago, adjacent to the al-Yusufiya Cemetery in Jerusalem, where Palestinian leaders and media have made unsubstantiated claims (according to the Israeli court records) that Israel has already “desecrated” Palestinian graves – and claiming that human remains had been found in an unmarked grave in the area.

 Arab families sitting by the graves of their relatives near Yusufiya Cemetery (credit: TZVI JOFFRE) Arab families sitting by the graves of their relatives near Yusufiya Cemetery (credit: TZVI JOFFRE)

Yet when the courts looked into these accusations, they found that much of the evidence was unable to be verified and highly suspicious. Additionally, they found that the Palestinians making the accusations had previously given false testimony about the same case, claiming they witnessed the evidence when in fact they were told about it by someone else, and they had also violated the court orders by burying and modifying gravestones in the area, which was already marked for public use.

The reality is that there were no Israeli forces bulldozing anything; there were construction workers doing landscaping work as per the city’s new plan to build an archaeological park, not a theme park.

Additionally, the Israeli courts ruled in July that no burials were permitted to take place in the area, which was approved a significant time ago for public use. Instead of respecting the ruling, Palestinians have continued to illegally bury in the area.

Despite that, the Israeli courts have provided specific instructions to respect the burial sites of Palestinians and implemented a number of restrictions on the type of work that can be conducted in the area in question, noting that only “light work” such as gardening is permitted, and that absolutely no drilling, demolition or excavation will be permitted.

The courts, as well as the Jerusalem Municipality, confirmed that no gravestones have been desecrated by the construction work, and that no graves, including illegal graves, would be moved or desecrated.

But leave it to Palestinian social media to completely ignore the facts of the situation and incite violence.

Palestinian factions issued a statement promising “bloodshed” of the “Zionists” over the incident, and the Palestinian Authority news agency WAFA claimed that “dozens” of bodies had been dug up by Israel, another unsubstantiated claim. Adding fuel to the fire, figures such as the head of the Committee for the Care of Islamic Cemeteries in Jerusalem, Mustafa Abu Zahra, claimed that Israel was “covering the cemetery with dirt.”

These false claims led to riots near the construction site throughout the week, which included violent attacks and rock throwing against Israeli police, as well as antisemitic calls to violence, with Palestinian crowds chanting “Khaybar khaybar ya yahud...,” a reference to when the army of Muhammad massacred the Jews in Khaybar.

Instead of investigating the issue thoroughly, social media spread the news of graves being “bulldozed” like wildfire in the West as well, thanks largely to celebrities such as Hadid, who shared false information about the Nababta case on her Instagram story to her 46 million followers. Similarly, her father, real estate mogul Mohamed Hadid, accused Israel of “not respecting the dead,” in a post that garnered over 42,000 likes.

Turkish news sources and Middle East Eye also shared stories with inaccurate information about the events occurring at al-Yusufiya Cemetery, intensifying the social media outrage.

While debating about the appropriateness of an archaeological park in Jerusalem is valid, outright incitement to violence and the spread of misinformation over these events on social media is unacceptable and dangerous.

Graves are not being excavated or demolished in al-Yusufiya, and those claiming otherwise are engaging in irresponsible reporting at best, and intentional incitement to violence at worst.

We cannot resolve issues between Israelis and Palestinians when misinformation continues to inflame the debate and twist the facts of the issue.

The writer is the CEO of Social Lite Creative LLC.